Verse > William Wordsworth > Complete Poetical Works
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A FACT, AND AN IMAGINATION

OR,

CANUTE AND ALFRED, ON THE SEASHORE

          THE Danish Conqueror, on his royal chair,
          Mustering a face of haughty sovereignty,
          To aid a covert purpose, cried--"O ye
          Approaching Waters of the deep, that share
          With this green isle my fortunes, come not where
          Your Master's throne is set."--Deaf was the Sea;
          Her waves rolled on, respecting his decree
          Less than they heed a breath of wanton air.
          --Then Canute, rising from the invaded throne,
          Said to his servile Courtiers,--"Poor the reach,            10
          The undisguised extent, of mortal sway!
          He only is a King, and he alone
          Deserves the name (this truth the billows preach)
          Whose everlasting laws, sea, earth, and heaven, obey."
            This just reproof the prosperous Dane
          Drew, from the influx of the main,
          For some whose rugged northern mouths would strain
          At oriental flattery;
          And Canute (fact more worthy to be known)
          From that time forth did for his brows disown               20
          The ostentatious symbol of a crown;
          Esteeming earthly royalty
          Contemptible as vain.
            Now hear what one of elder days,
          Rich theme of England's fondest praise,
          Her darling Alfred, 'might' have spoken;
          To cheer the remnant of his host
          When he was driven from coast to coast,
          Distressed and harassed, but with mind unbroken:
            "My faithful followers, lo! the tide is spent             30
          That rose, and steadily advanced to fill
          The shores and channels, working Nature's will
          Among the mazy streams that backward went,
          And in the sluggish pools where ships are pent:
          And now, his task performed, the flood stands still,
          At the green base of many an inland hill,
          In placid beauty and sublime content!
          Such the repose that sage and hero find;
          Such measured rest the sedulous and good
          Of humbler name; whose souls do, like the flood             40
          Of Ocean, press right on; or gently wind,
          Neither to be diverted nor withstood,
          Until they reach the bounds by Heaven assigned."
                                                              1816.


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